Climate Science for Beginners

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC : GLOBAL WARMING 101 : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJAbATJCugs

Each year the Climate Camp run a wide-ranging agenda of workshops, with subjects from Climate Change Policy to how to build efficient camping “rocket” camping stoves.

Here follows the text and graphics from this year’s “Climate 101” workshop. Do follow up the sources and check when you encounter the myths and ask yourselves why they are still being propagated.

A huge shout out for Ben Hart from the massive Climate Camp posse who stitched all the information together :-

http://www.projectdirt.com/profiles/blog/list?user=1jq364q12jc23

All the images are available on the Internet apart from Climate101K which is a screenshot from the Climate Safety manual, and is credited to PIRC, the Public Interest Research Centre (thanks, guys !) :-

http://pirc.info/




Climate Science 101 – Climate Change for Beginners

Basic Science Overview

1. The Greenhouse Effect

· The air, or atmosphere, is an envelope of gases surrounding this planet, within which all life on Earth survives.

· This atmosphere is made up of different gases which are: Nitrogen (78%), Oxygen (21%), Argon (1%), Carbon Dioxide (0.03%) and trace gases such as Methane.

· There is also water as a gas in the atmosphere (water vapour), and small particles of things like soot and dust which act like part of the atmosphere (aerosols).

· These gases and aerosols take in (absorb) the energy of different colours (wavelengths) in sunlight.

· When the sunlight energy reaches the Earth’s surface, some is reflected back, but in different colours (wavelengths).

· This reflected sunlight is trapped by the gases in the atmosphere, and becomes extra heat in the air and oceans.

· In a nutshell this is the Greenhouse Effect and is the reason the planet stays at a temperature suitable for life, currently around 15°C (Celsius/Centigrade) or 59°F (Fahrenheit).

· Without the atmosphere, the average temperature of the surface of the Earth would be about -18°C or 0°F, a planet covered in ice and almost certainly lifeless.

Image : Climate101A

2. Temperature Distribution

· Because the Earth is round, when the Sun’s rays hit the midline (Equator) there is less atmosphere for them to pass through than at the poles. Therefore more heat energy reaches the ground at the Equator which causes an uneven temperature distribution from the Equator to the poles.

Image : Climate101B

· Heat energy always moves from an area of high heat to an area of low heat. In the Earth’s system, the uneven temperature distribution means that heat energy needs to move from the Equator to the poles.

· The two main ways this happens is through the movement of air parcels (which creates weather) and the movement of warm water to the poles. Combined with differences in salt content of seawater, this is known as Thermohaline Circulation (more on this later).

3. Carbon Cycles

· Everything in our planetary system is cyclic in nature; i.e. everything is constantly moving between its sources and sinks. This is especially true for the gases in our atmosphere. The main cycle we are concerned with right now is the Carbon Cycle, which is shown below:

Image : Climate101C

· As can be seen, the human (anthropogenic) contribution of Carbon to the atmosphere is very small (5.5 Gigatonnes of Carbon, or GtC) compared to natural influxes.

· This balance between natural sources and sinks has developed over millions of years. However, due to the very small timescales (>200 years) within which anthropogenic emissions have entered the stmosphere, the natural Carbon sinks are unable to absorb the excess and the Carbon stays in the atmosphere.

· Also, the fact that we are reducing these Carbon sinks (e.g. Rainforests) doesn’t help matters.

· All of this means that the levels of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere are rising steadily, from about 250 parts per million, or ppm in the 1800s to nearly 390 ppm today.

Image : Climate101D

Effects of Climate Change

· It’s already here: Climate Change is the response of the Earth systems to excess heating, which is known as Global Warming. The natural flows of heat energy on the Earth change as more heat energy is added. Heat energy moves around the planet mainly in water circulation patterns of the oceans, and patterns of wind in the atmosphere. Both the ocean circulations and the wind patterns influence the weather systems, and affect how clouds form and where and when rain falls. Rainfall is essential to all life on land, and changes in rainfall are being constantly monitored to help the world adapt.

· Disappearing Rivers – Increased use: Some major rivers no longer always run to the sea, partly because of increased agricultural irrigation. Taking more water from rivers to grow food crops is necessary partly because of changes in rainfall, and partly because of increases in what is known as Evapotranspiration, evaporation of moisture from open ground.

· Disappearing Rivers – Decreased refill: Changes in rainfall on mountains, and the changes in temperature, impact the amount of snow and ice pack at high altitudes. Less Spring melt means less water entering rivers that source from the mountains. In some areas, changes in rainfall mean that there is less rainwater coming directly into rivers.

· Water Wars: Less water comes into the rivers and less reaches the sea. There have been major and lasting droughts around the world in the last 40 years. There are already disputes between regions and countries about how water should be shared.

· Mass Migration – Storms and flooding: Paradoxically, while some parts of the world have less rainfall, others have more, but it’s the wrong kind of rain. The extra heat in the Earth system can cause stronger, more frequent rainstorms in areas without the waterways to cope, which leads to damaging floods, food crop destruction, soil erosion, loss of trees and destroyed freshwater sources. Some areas will need to be abandoned.

· Mass Migration – Sea level rise: Even though the current rise in sea levels is very small, some areas like river deltas are losing a lot of farming land each year, both under water and from salt poisoning. People are already moving inland from submerged farming areas and leaving low-lying islands in the rivers and oceans.

· Hot Zones – Urban heat stress: Global Warming affects the weather directly in terms of air temperatures. In Cities, there is the Heat Island Effect, which is making urban areas less comfortable to live in as the average temperatures increase. Much of Southern Europe and the Middle East are starting to suffer from unbearable heatwaves, which will eventually last for several months of the year, making some places uninhabitable.

· Hot Zones – Creeping desert: The higher average temperatures, coupled with the loss of water from ground and rivers, is causing a loss of trees and other plant life, allowing deserts to expand, encroaching upon towns and villages and forcing people to migrate.

· The Big Hunger: Global food production is directly affected by higher temperatures and lower rainfall in the major crop-growing regions. The global patterns of trade will have to change, and there will be a high risk of famine in some regions, with the high risk of conflict.

· Positive Feedback Effects: “when an increase in A produces more of B which in turn increases more of A”. A well known example is the ice-albedo effect; warmer temperatures melt more ice, which reduces reflection of sunlight and therefore causes more warming. Another is increased temperatures causing more water vapour which captures more radiation which raises the temperature.

· Tipping points: There are certain tipping points in the system which when passed will mean that increasingly dramatic warming is inevitable. These include: Methane Hydrate release from deep oceans; Methane release from permafrost, melting of the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets, Amazon rainforest diebacks, etc, etc.

Image : Climate101E

How do we know all this? – The Current Scientific Thinking

Scientists throughout history have monitored changes in the planetary system (weather, temperature, etc). Over the past few decades, as problems with the climatic system have become more of an emerging issue, the amount of data collected by scientists has increased exponentially; due in no small part to the efforts of Environmentalists to bring these issues to the forefront of society.

Since 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been collating and reviewing the most up to date research on Climate Science and publishing the results in a report every four to five years, with the last being 2007. The IPCC is the best approximation of a global scientific consensus we currently have. As discussed on its website:

“The IPCC does not conduct any research nor does it monitor climate related data or parameters. Thousands of scientists from all over the world contribute to the work of the IPCC on a voluntary basis. Review is an essential part of the IPCC process, to ensure an objective and complete assessment of current information. Differing viewpoints existing within the scientific community are reflected in the IPCC reports.”

The IPCC reports synthesise the current data from climate science research and uses this to make predictions of global climate change based on 4 different scenarios of future development:

Image : Climate101F

· A1 storyline and scenario family: a future world of very rapid economic growth, global population that peaks in mid-century and declines thereafter, and rapid introduction of new and more efficient technologies.

· A2 storyline and scenario family: a very heterogeneous world with continuously increasing global population and regionally oriented economic growth that is more fragmented and slower than in other storylines.

· B1 storyline and scenario family: a convergent world with the same global population as in the A1 storyline but with rapid changes in economic structures toward a service and information economy, with reductions in material intensity, and the introduction of clean and resource-efficient technologies.

· B2 storyline and scenario family: a world in which the emphasis is on local solutions to economic, social, and environmental sustainability, with continuously increasing population (lower than A2) and intermediate economic development.

The diagram below is taken from an IPCC report showing future predictions based on the above scenarios (For more info on these scenarios go to the ‘Future Scenarios’ workshop).

Image : Climate101G

http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/res/pi/arch/images/ipcc_21st_century_clim.jpg

http://www.grida.no/publications/other/ipcc_tar/?src=/CLIMATE/IPCC_TAR/wg1/008.htm

http://www.carboncommentary.com/2007/11/26/55

http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/index.html

http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/docs/Solomon_IPCCWG1.ppt

http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/Report/AR4WG1_Print_SPM.pdf

It is important to note the existence of uncertainties in science. This is one of the main problems scientists have in communicating their findings to the outside world.

In science there are always uncertainties in the results- you can never be 100% sure of any conclusion, especially when it comes to predicting future happenings.

One fundamental aspect of science is to attempt to reduce these uncertainties. This is done through repeating experiments, maintaining controls, increasing the amount of data studied, etc.

However, people in normal society (and especially politicians) want to deal in certainties. They want to know if we do X to something, Y will definitely happen.

This is a fundamental problem in communicating data between scientists and non-scientists and has led to a lot of stalling and misdirection by those who tend to benefit from inaction on climate change.

There are a myriad reasons for this confusion, but the result of this is that the international targets are based on the mid-range predictions from the IPCC, which are themselves based on the mid range conclusions of the scientific data.

This essentially means they are ignoring all of the more extreme predictions, even though those predictions themselves may be conservative.

Current Observations and Climate Canaries

Unfortunately, observations of the climate system seem to be showing that the IPCC predictions are, indeed too conservative.

Published in 2008 by the Public Interest Research Centre, The Climate Safety report shows that the current observed impacts of climate change are way ahead of the IPCC‘s 2007 report.

One major observation is the reduction in Arctic Sea ice:

Image : Climate101H

http://www.udel.edu/PR/UDaily/2008/jul/vims071307.html

http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=3900

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/3307816/Arctic-sea-ice-melts-to-all-time-low.html

http://maps.grida.no/go/graphic/satellite-observations-in-arctic-sea-ice-1979-and-2003

http://hubpages.com/hub/The-Tipping-Point–Our-Climates-Point-of-No-Return

http://www.stopglobalwarming.com.au/global_warming_current_climate_impacts.html

The IPCC report states that “Arctic summer sea ice is projected to disappear almost completely before the end of the 21st century”. After record losses in 2007, recent studies have now predicted a complete loss between 2011 and 2015 (that’s more than 80 years ahead of schedule). The graph below shows the observed versus the predicted levels of sea ice in the arctic:

Image : Climate101I

A similar trend is seen in the northern permafrost- increased warming is causing huge amounts of methane and carbon dioxide to be released. As the warmth spreads from the south, huge areas of permafrost will start to melt and released their stored carbon. Worryingly, not only is there twice as much carbon stored in permafrost than currently exists in the atmosphere, it is not even included in current climate models!!

Image : Climate101J


http://www.flickr.com/photos/28876835@N02/3268622847/

http://www.ucar.edu/news/releases/2008/permafrost.jsp

http://climatechangepsychology.blogspot.com/2008_06_01_archive.html

Image : Climate101K

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3108/3269414390_1461e2a8c1.jpg

Climate Sceptics Arguments

Climate Change Deniers (or as they prefer “Sceptics”) are very fond of a certain limited set of arguments which can easily be refuted/debunked/dismissed. Here’s a brief summary of some of the best clangers around, myths that cling on despite the progress in Climate Science.

MYTH #1: The Climate is always Changing…
Yes, it is, but not like it is now. The only way we can explain recent Global Warming is to take account of mankind’s activities, including burning Fossil Fuels and logging rainforests.

MYTH #2: Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Emissions aren’t causing Global Warming…
Recent Global Warming is a fact, and Chemistry and Physics tell us that Carbon Dioxide is one of the key Greenhouse Gases.

MYTH #3: Global Warming is caused by changes in the Sun…
It is true that virtually all the heat energy on Earth comes from the Sun. But changes in solar activity (or solar wind or cosmic rays) cannot explain the current rise in Global Warming. In fact, until recently, solar changes implied the opposite.

MYTH #4: Global Warming stopped in 1998…
No, it didn’t, and if you check the graphs of the Earth temperature record for the last 100 years you will see for yourself that Global Warming is still going on.

MYTH #5: Computer models get the weather wrong, so they can’t predict climate…
Weather is not the same as climate. The British climate is “temperate”, but nobody can say for sure when a cloud will empty rain on Berkshire. Computer models are based on historical fact projected into the future with high confidence.

MYTH #6: Satellites and weather balloons disprove Global Warming theory.
No, they don’t. They confirm it.

MYTH #7: The Oceans are cooling…the Arctic Sea Ice is recovering…the glaciers are growing…the ice sheets are getting thicker…
All wrong. Go look at the data.

MYTH #8: There’s not enough Fossil Fuel to burn to cause dangerous
Climate Change from the Global Warming Potential of Carbon Dioxide…

There is less Petroleum Oil, Natural Gas and Coal than currently admitted. The global economy may collapse soon and stop burning much Fossil Fuel. But most scientists calculate that even so, Carbon Dioxide emissions from another 10 years of burning the remaining Fossil Fuels at the same rate as today could cause dangerous Global Warming. Besides which, Carbon Dioxide is not the only Greenhouse Gas. Very importantly, we need to control Methane from land and animal management; and soot emissions from Coal and Biomass (mostly wood) burning.

MYTH #9: Rising Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere is due to Global Warming…
Some of the extra Carbon Dioxide, Methane and Nitrous Oxide coming into the atmosphere is a result of the Earth system responding to Global Warming. But the majority of Greenhouse Gases coming into the air are a result of mankind’s activities, and most of the Global Warming is a result of anthropogenic (man-made) Greenhouse Gas emissions.

MYTH #10: Scientists are always changing their minds…scientists keep getting things wrong…
The theoretical and observational science of Climate Change has matured sufficiently to be fully reliable.

Helpful links in answering these myths, obfuscations and cherry-picking fallacies:-

“Climate change: A guide for the perplexed”:-
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11462-climate-change-a-guide-for-the-perplexed.html

“Climate Change controversies – a simple guide” :-
http://royalsociety.org/downloaddoc.asp?id=6220

“A guide to facts and fictions about climate change” :-
http://royalsociety.org/downloaddoc.asp?id=1630

“How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic: Responses to the most common
skeptical arguments on global warming A Grist Special Series” :-
http://www.grist.org/article/series/skeptics/
http://www.panda.org/about_our_earth/aboutcc/cause/climate_sceptics/

“Skeptics’ disputes with the IPCC” :-
http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Global_warming_skeptic
http://www.operationnoah.org/resources/factsheets/countering-climate-change-sceptics-and-handling-tricky-questions

“Climate change deniers: failsafe tips on how to spot them”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2009/mar/10/climate-change-denier

Denialism :-
http://scienceblogs.com/denialism

“Global Warming Sceptic Bingo” :-
http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2005/04/gwsbingo.php

NERC Climate Change Challenge :-
http://www.nerc.ac.uk/about/consult/debate/debate.aspx?did=1&pg=1

“How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic” :-
http://scienceblogs.com/illconsidered/2008/07/how_to_talk_to_a_sceptic.php

“Responses to common contrarian arguments” :-
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2004/12/index/#Responses

Solutions?

Zero Carbon Britain tackles Global Warming by addressing Energy matters. The only strategy with a hint of success is to Powerdown and Power Up : reduce Carbon Energy use whilst at the same time ramping up Renewable Energy use :-

http://www.zerocarbonbritain.com

The Green New Deal is an attempt by unionists, environmentalists and politicians to redirect the world’s economy towards Clean Energy, and thereby creating huge new employment opportunities:

http://www.greennewdealgroup.org>

Socolow’s Wedges show how certain policies, regulations and market choices can reduce overall Carbon Dioxide emissions:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stabilization_Wedge_Game

Transition Towns and Sustainable Cities are two models for citizen participation in reducing Energy consumption and increasing non-Carbon ways of life:-

http://www.transitiontowns.org

http://www.sustainable-cities.eu

Climate Safety is a sociopolitical strategy to achieving change in the UK:

http://www.climatesafety.org

The Low Carbon Transition is the Government strategy in the UK:-

http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/publications/lc_trans_plan/lc_trans_plan.aspx

Sources

http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/syr/ar4_syr_spm.pdf

http://www.grida.no/publications/vg/climate/

WHY CO2 IS SO IMPORTANT

SEA ICE ANIMATION
http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a000000/a003400/a003474/index.html

ARCTIC SEA ICE
http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a000000/a003400/a003456/

IPCC TAR Third Assessment Report
http://www.grida.no/publications/other/ipcc_tar/?src=
/CLIMATE/IPCC_TAR/wg1/518.htm

http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/publications_and_data_reports.htm

2007 IPCC WG1 AR4 Fourth Assessment Report Powerpoint Presentations
http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/
http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/wg1-figures.html
http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/Figures/AR4WG1_TS-Figs_2007-07-11.ppt

FLYER FOR 2007 IPCC REPORT LAUNCH

INDEX OF IPCC SLIDES
http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/slides/index.htm

SOME NICE SLIDES
http://johnsonhaas.wordpress.com/

PROJECTED SEA LEVEL RISE
http://maps.grida.no/go/graphic/projected-sea-level-rise-for-the-21st-century

IPCC WORKING GROUPS
http://www.ipcc.ch/working_groups/working_groups.htm

IPCC Summary For Policymakers 2007 AR4 Fourth Assessment Report
http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/Report/AR4WG1_Print_SPM.pdf

IPCC FAQ 2007 – HIGH DEFINITION
http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/FAQ/docs/AR4WG1_FAQ-Brochure_HiRes.pdf




5 thoughts on “Climate Science for Beginners”

  1. [ WARNING : JOABBESS.COM ADVISES YOU THAT THE COMMENT BELOW WAS WRITTEN BY A CLIMATE CHANGE DENIER. THE CHALLENGE FOR YOU, THE READER, IS TO DETECT THE MYTHS AND ISSUE A REBUTTAL. JOABBESS.COM CAN COUNT 7 MYTHS IN THE COMMENT BELOW. CAN YOU DO BETTER THAN THAT ? ]

    “MYTH #1: The Climate is always Changing…
    Yes, it is, but not like it is now.”

    Not like it is now? Are you joking? That’s quite a claim. There are hundreds of times in the past where climate changed just like it is now. Climate change today is a continuation of the end of the last ice age 20,000 years ago. You’re aware that CO2 follows temperature changes closely, but there is an 800 year delay. We are now seeing CO2 levels repsonding to climate changes which happened around the year 1200.

    Some myth.

  2. [ INFORMATION : JOABBESS.COM NOTES THAT THIS RESPONSE FROM SCOTT A. MANDIA DEBUNKS THE COMMENT FROM KLEM THE DENIER/SCEPTIC/SKEPTIC MADE PREVIOUSLY ON THIS POST. THANKS FOR THE REBUTTAL, SCOTT ! AND KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK ! ]

    1) The rate of change of temperature now is fairly unprecendented in the climate record. 0.7 degrees C increase in 100 years with most of that ocurring in the last two decades, does not appear in the modern climate record before today.

    2) We are actually in an ice age still.

    3) CO2 lags T argument is moot. Before human activities, CO2 was controlled by natural forcing mechanisms that took place over thousands of years. When the climate warmed, more CO2 entered the atmosphere. This increase in CO2 then accelerated the warming so CO2 may not have caused the initial warming but it definitely drove the climate later on. The “CO2 increase lags the temperature increase” argument is moot in today’s world because human activities are now driving the CO2 change on very short time scales. CO2 concentrations are known accurately for the past 650,000 years. During that time, they varied between 180 ppm and 300 ppm. As of August 2009, CO2 is 386 ppm which took about 100 years to increase. For comparison, it took over 5,000 years for an 80 ppm rise after the last ice age. Higher values than today have only occurred over many millions of years.

    4, 5, 6) We are now seeing CO2 levels repsonding to climate changes which happened around the year 1200.

    The assumptions here are three-fold: That today’s CO2 level is normal (see my rebuttal above in #3) and that the climate is just rebounding from the Little Ice Age. The Little Ice Age was more regional in nature and the year 1200 is not a good indicator of this time period. 1560 to 1850 was a much cooler period than post-1200. Finally, climate chnage is caused by forcing mechanisms and subsequent feedbacks. “Rebounding from the LIA” is not a forcing mechanism so it cannot be used to explain climate change. For example, if I ask you to tell me why it gets cooler at night, the incorrect answer is because the sun gies down. The sun can only act to warm the Earth. When it is down at night all that means is that it cannot warm up at night (all other cators being equal). It gets cooler at night because the ground is always emitting its IR radiation back to the sky and to space.

    7) Hmm…I will be a little humorous here. Certainly his statement are you joking is a myth because you are serious.

  3. [ WARNING : JOABBESS.COM ADVISES YOU THAT THE COMMENT BELOW WAS WRITTEN BY A CLIMATE CHANGE DENIER. THE CHALLENGE FOR YOU, THE READER, IS TO DETECT THE MYTHS AND ISSUE A REBUTTAL. JOABBESS.COM CAN COUNT 7 MYTHS IN THE COMMENT BELOW. CAN YOU DO BETTER THAN THAT ? ]

    Is this supposed to be a serious blog, or just a platform for the blog owner to deal with her anger management problems?. Does Jo Abbess think that people will find her bizzare warning messages as anything other then the rantings of a mad person?.

    I personally think that the climate is changing,I also think that the main reason for climate change is the SUN. I also believe that we are feeling the effects of the 12th century warming period.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *